a sermon for Maundy Thursday on 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 and John 13:1-17, 31b-35
preached on April 5, 2012, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
There’s been a lot of talk about mandates lately, and between the Supreme Court and the presidential race talking about a health care mandate, we are sure to hear a lot more about mandates before this year is out! But today is all about mandates. The name for this day itself, Maundy Thursday, comes from the Latin word mandatum, the same as our word mandate. This name for this comes from the commandment that Jesus gives his disciples in our reading from John tonight:
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
This mandate that we celebrate tonight is Jesus’ last commandment: Love one another.
This love seems to be a pretty straightforward thing. Jesus talks about it in one form or another in all the gospels: Love God and love neighbor, he commands, and you will embody everything that is necessary along the way of faith. But these commands mean nothing in words alone. They find their greatest and most complete meaning in Jesus’ own actions that we remember tonight as well – the incredible gift of his presence in bread and wine and his self-giving service as he washed the feet of the disciples.
These actions describe the mandate of this night and the commitment of this Holy Week far better than any words ever can. In opening himself to his disciples and to us in the feast we will soon share, Jesus made it clear that anyone and everyone is welcome to share in the life that he offers. In offering himself in service to his disciples as he washed their feet, Jesus showed them that love cannot exist solely in words but must translate into radical, even unexpected action. In all these things, Jesus continued the acts of self-giving love that marked every moment of his life and ministry – and that shines through so clearly as he journeyed to his death on the cross.
And so what matters for us in these days is not so much the suffering that he endured but rather the attitude he brought to it all. The violence put upon him in his death matters far less than his gentle and humane response to it, for Jesus refused to allow even the threat of death to change how he lived. He didn’t respond in kind when insults were hurled at him. He didn’t see the need to defend his innocence at all costs. He didn’t find it necessary to condemn those who condemned him – but rather chose to forgive. All this was rooted in that final mandate of love that he gave his disciples – and that he lived out even through his last hours.
This is the call of this night, not to worry so much about exactly what we believe, to perfectly imitate what Jesus did, or to sort out who is in or out of the church or anything like that, but rather to live faithfully according to the mandate Jesus gave us, to embody this kind of incredible love in our lives so that others too might live in this way and know the fullness of God’s grace, love, justice, and mercy in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.